Lost in Space Adam Putnam, BCA Center
isitors to the “Adam Putnam: Magic Lanterns” exhibition now at the BCA Center will no doubt be drawn to the show’s eponymous “lanterns” installed in the front and back rooms of the gallery — “Untitled (Red Hallway)” and “Untitled (Green Hallway),” respectively. The devices, which date to the 17th century and much later ﬁ gured in early motion-picture development, here project unpeopled architectural interiors upon the walls. But while the murky, seemingly endless rooms are intriguing, viewers should not dismiss Putnam’s one small, blackand-white photograph and ﬁ ve modest drawings in the BCA’s f ront room: Despite the show’s title, these works represent the heart of the exhibition. Putnam’s compelling mixed-media works on paper are def t renderings of imaginary structures — architectural fragments with undeﬁ ned interior and exterior spaces, like the ruins of a past civilization. He describes these works as “fragments of spaces.” In “Untitled (Entry)” and “Untitled (Slit),” these spaces appear inﬁ nite and not conﬁ ned to the paper, frame or wall. In “Untitled (Entry),” Putnam has ﬁ lled the entire drawing surface with a red-brick wall interrupted by a crenulated passageway. One side of the wall remains unﬁ nished, perhaps suggesting an inﬁ nite, or impermanent, ediﬁ ce. In a subtle illusion of a reﬂ ective surf ace, the passage leading toward a darkened, rectangular entryway is mirrored on the ﬂ oor. “Untitled,” a mixed-media work on paper depicts a squat, red-brick building ﬁ xed in a greasy, sooty, charcoal void. With no visible doors or windows, it’s a su˛ ocating image, bringing to mind a mausoleum or crematorium. “Untitled (Steeple)” depicts the exterior of a fortress-like structure. The impenetrable mass of white bricks recalls
In this enigmatic photograph and Putnam’s drawings, physical and psychological spaces intersect. Real or imagined architectural spaces f unction as allegorical sites in which the artist, or the viewer, can imagine a self. Putnam’s architectural constructions seem to be inviting habitation, provoking both desire and uncertainty. His lanterns, however, f all short of such intriguing realms. Putnam says he ﬁ rst conceived of the idea f or his lanterns af ter seeing a ﬁ lm by experimental ﬁ lmmaker and author of Hollywood Babylon , Kenneth Anger, who utilized the device to project a fantasy scene. Belying the artist’s intention that his lanterns look “like they could “Untitled (Slit)” fall apart any minute,” they are decidedly not f ragile constructions. They are humble and rather coarsely made; illuminated via dim electric light rather than ﬂ ickering candle, the lanterns are set on sturdy pedestals several feet from the gallery walls. The lantern’s Plexiglas sides are British artist Rachel Whiteread’s sculp- smudged with ﬁ ngerprints; the exposed ture “Ghost,” a full-scale cast of the ininteriors (is the ﬂ oor really an industrial terior of an entire living space in plaster. carpet remnant?) and single bare bulb Similarly, Putnam’s drawing suggests reveal the inner workings — the artiﬁ ce the presence of something not seen, just of the enterprise. The viewer might be as it deﬁ es the logic of habitable space. momentarily captivated by the hazy, In the helpf ul cellphone audio tour “magical” projections, yet may leave of the exhibition, Putnam acknowledges wondering, Is that all there is? that small photograph as the “keystone Ultimately, Putnam’s lanterns are for the rest of the show.” The silver-gel- unconvincing; they are a limited illusatin self-portrait depicts the bare-chest- tration of a concept, not an expansive ed, 6-foot-8 artist improbably folded be- engagement with one. In his works on hind the glass vitrine of a small cabinet. paper and his photography, Putnam His face obscured by a corona of glare, constructs f antastic realities, narrating Putnam takes his own picture via a caa ﬁ ction worth believing. ble connected to the unseen camera. A S U M R U T EK I N viewer can’t help but wonder how he can extricate himself without breaking “Adam Putnam: Magic Lanterns,” the glass. It’s an uncanny image, like an mixed-media installation, drawings and anonymous tra˝ c accident that simulphotography. BCA Center, Burlington. ˜ rough taneously repels and attracts us. February 25.
PUTNAM’S COMPELLING MIXED-MEDIA WORKS ON PAPER ARE
DEFT RENDERINGS OF IMAGINARY STRUCTURES.
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